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07 décembre 2008

1960s Cambodian rock alive and well in America

By VANESSA FRANKO, The Press-Enterprise, 12-3-08
Few American indie bands are playing 1960s-style Cambodian rock these days. And Dengue Fever is the only one to have a documentary made about it. You can check out both the band and the film tonight at Garrison Theater, Scripps College Performing Arts Center, in Claremont, when Dengue Fever performs and the documentary is screened. The film "Sleepwalking Through the Mekong" follows the band on a tour to Cambodia.

Dengue Fever has been climbing the buzzmeter with shows across the U.S. and a recent tour of Europe. The band was signed by Peter Gabriel's Real World Records to release its newest album, "Venus On Earth," outside the U.S. and Canada.

"I thought when the band was starting, I was optimistic locally -- like in Los Angeles and the music scene there. I knew it'd be a lot of fun to play this style at the local clubs where my brother and I live in Echo Park and Silver Lake. ... I knew it would go over well there," keyboardist Ethan Holtzman said. "I didn't know it was going to become our careers."

He and brother Zac Holtzman, who plays guitar, started the band in 2001 after discovering their mutual interest in Cambodian music from the 1960s.

Ethan traveled throughout Southeast Asia about 10 years ago and got into Cambodian pop music and bought cassettes. Around the same time, Zac was living in San Francisco, working at a record store where a colleague turned him onto the music. The brothers were staying together in Los Angeles and Ethan heard some of the music in Zac's collection.

"That's crazy -- I know that stuff," Ethan remembered thinking.

They decided it would be fun to play the music, which has psychedelic rock tones blended with traditional Cambodian music and sometimes lyrics, and formed the band. Saxophone player David Ralicke, drummer Paul Smith and bassist Senon Williams joined and they looked for a Cambodian singer, finding Chhom Nimol singing karaoke in Long Beach.

Nimol, who is from Cambodia, was known around the country and had performed for the king and queen.

Nimol's homecoming is documented in "Sleepwalking Through the Mekong," directed by John Pirozzi, which follows the band on their tour of Cambodia. It was filmed over 10 days in 2005. Tonight, Pirozzi will be on hand for a Q&A after the film.

"We'll remember it for the rest of our lives," Ethan said of the tour.

Some people knew the band before they toured Cambodia. Other recognized them from a television program and spoke to them as they traveled the country. Shows were packed, including one at a bar on a swamp. The owner was afraid would fall into the water.

"It went down in Cambodian history," Ethan said.

Kyte - Two Sparks, Two Stars EP (Kids)

by Sam Shepherd,

UK release date: 1 December 2008

Kyte - Two Sparks, Two Stars EP (Kids)

If there is any justice in this world, then by this time next year Kyte will be flying high, and will be the band that is on everyone's lips.

Having impressed greatly on the live circuit, not least with their stunning support sets with iLikeTrains earlier in the year, it's great to see that Kyte have returned with a simply stunning EP.

If their debut single on Sonic Cathedral promised much and their self titled mini album hinted at greatness, then this EP represents a further step towards becoming recognised as one of the UK's most exciting new bands.

There are of course different kinds of exciting, and if it's jumping about in a mosh pit you're after then stop reading now. If on the other hand you enjoy having your heartstrings plucked by vast soundscapes, gentle vocals and soaring melodies, then Kyte have a treat in store for you.

There's no getting away from the fact that they sound a little bit like Sigur Ros here and there, particularly on the opening track Eyes Lose Their Fire. A slow build of guitar noise builds into a chiming epic, given a warm edge by the vocals of Nick Moon. If your eyes lose their fire by the end of the track it's because they're welling with tears.

Bridges in The Sky is a more electronic take on Kyte's sound, which is far from surprising given the banks of keyboards they hunch over in a live setting. It does set them apart from that particular Icelandic benchmark though hinting more at a Krautrock approach.

Ordinarily cover versions are a bad idea, but with their take on Peter Gabriel's Solsbury Hill Kyte pull off something quite spectacular. Tender, heartbreaking, and utterly compelling from first bar to last, Gabriel's tale of his departure from Genesis finds a safe place to call home in Kyte's re-interpretation.

They wrap things up with the suitable indulgent, but equally fabulous Lights Outside Here which blends their post-rock approach with looped drum beats and showcases both sides of Kyte's raison d'être perfectly.

For a band to suddenly break all it takes is a spark, Kyte have two, and they should be on the way to the stars.

Yeasayer's music bridges cultural gaps

Andrew Leahey,, Friday, November 28, 2008

RIFFS: Globe-trotting pop

Yeasayer's music bridges cultural gaps

In the 1980s, songwriting veterans like Peter Gabriel and David Byrne began augmenting their craft with elements of world music. Sounds were borrowed from indigenous cultures and molded into something palatable to Western pop audiences, eventually giving rise to a genre known as "worldbeat." Championed by everyone from Paul Simon to Mickey Hart, worldbeat promoted a multicultural perspective while fueling some of the decade's biggest hits.

The worldbeat label is rarely applied to emerging bands these days, and the four members of Yeasayer do not list Mr. Gabriel as a chief influence. Nevertheless, Yeasayer's genre-bending music is similarly global in scope, from its use of Middle Eastern scales to the prevalence of tribal percussion. What differentiates Yeasayer from its worldbeat ancestors, however, is the band's use of contemporary tools, including computer gadgetry and looped keyboard patterns. Blended with organic instrumentation and pop-oriented songwriting, the band makes a delightful racket that owes as much to Cape Town as to metropolitan New York.

"People think we're 'freak folk' or something like Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, which is totally not what we are," says frontman Chris Keating. "It's funny to see the varying degrees in which people interpret your music. I welcome it."

Yeasayer's roots date to Mr. Keating's childhood, when he performed in theater productions and school choirs with classmate Anand Wilder. After internalizing the importance of vocal harmony, the two launched an indie-rock band in high school. Attending different colleges split them apart for several years, but an eventual reunion in New York City found the musicians crafting a new style of music.

With bassist Ira Wolf Tuton and percussionist Luke Fasano rounding out the lineup, Yeasayer began melding barbershop harmonies with pop melodies and experimental sounds. Sitars found their way into the mix. Hand-claps and bongos augmented the standard drum kit. Synthesizers situated the songs in a modern context, while chants and clannish vocals conveyed a neo-tribal aura.

"Brooklyn almost feels like Seattle in 1992," says Mr. Keating of his band's current home. "It's like all the pathetic dredges from the major labels are wanting to sign bands that are coming out of Brooklyn."

Yeasayer did get signed, but not to a major label's roster. Rather, the musicians joined forces with Jason Foster, co-founder of Baltimore-based Monitor Records. Impressed with Yeasayer's homemade recordings, the label executive formed a new company to handle his newest clients.

"We had absolutely no money to do our debut album, but I was fine with that," Mr. Keating remembers. "Jason had a very good take on the industry and decided to start his own label over the course of the year. He's remarkable in the way he handles things."

"All Hour Cymbals," Yeasayer's debut album of globetrotting pop/rock, was issued in late 2007. Songs like "2080" and "Sunrise" had already enjoyed a healthy Internet buzz before the album's release, and Mr. Foster promoted the album in unique ways, eschewing traditional advertising in favor of a grass-roots approach.

Audio Clip

"Sunrise," Yeasayer

"After you witness this collapse of the major label system, it opens up more opportunities for the small businessman," says Mr. Keating. "It enables you to finagle more deals. We were able to get to Europe seven times this year; previously, all of that would've been impossible on such a tiny label."

It's been a long 12 months for Yeasayer, whose upcoming shows will mark the band's final tour for several months. After that, it'll be time to work on a new record.
"We're going to rent a house in upstate New York or Connecticut, and we're going to build a temporary recording studio there," Mr. Keating says excitedly.

Not too late to help Amnesty

By KAREN BLISS -- For JAM! Music, November 27, 2008

Amnesty International Canada's Small Places campaign has seen dozens of Canadian musicians banding around the cause since its September 10 launch, and it's not too late to participate.

The global campaign ends December 10, which marks International Human Rights Day and the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

"The ask at this time is to hold a Small Places designated concert between now and December 10 in support of Amnesty," says Ottawa-based Tatiana Nemchin, Amnesty's musician liaison. "We're trying to have as many events between now and then and to raise much needed funds. Amnesty is funded entirely by donations and membership. We receive no government funding and so this campaign is a crucial time for raising awareness and funds, and for recruiting and engaging more human rights activists. It's sort of a passing of the torch from Peter Gabriel and the Edge to a younger generation of musician activists and to increase membership and involvement."

Amnesty is a worldwide movement of close to 2 million people who help protect individuals and communities around the world whose human rights have been violated. Small Places is named after a passage in Eleanor Roosevelt's 1958 speech in which she spoke about human rights as beginning in "small places close to home." Amnesty International invited all musicians to raise their voices for human rights and stage benefit and awareness concerts around the world.

On the international front, Nemchin says REM, Michael Franti, Joan Baez, and many more have participated in Small Places. Here in Canada, she rattles of a huge list of artists from every genre, who designated a tour or a show to the cause, have chosen a particular Amnesty case to champion, auctioned tickets, started blogs, and other creative things.

Broken Social Scene donated the song "Major Label Debut" for the soundtrack to Small Places PSAs. Jason Collett had tabling at his shows and is drawing awareness to the case of Toronto's Omar Khadr imprisoned in Guantanamo Bay; Alanis Morissette had tabling at her shows; Six Shooter Records donated tickets for shows by Martin Tielli with Jenn Grant, Christine Fellows, Shout Out Out Out Out with Stereo Image, and Hawksley Workman; and Wintersleep gathered petition signatures for WOZA & Kimy Pernia.

David Usher had tabling on his six-week tour and chose to get behind the case of U Gambira. Stars will be tabling at several upcoming shows including Montreal, Ottawa and Toronto. Holy F*ck tabled and provided petitions in support of Kimy Pernia, U Gambira, Hu Jia, and Omar Khadr. Wide Mouth Mason has links and a blog on its web site; Eve Goldberg is playing in support of U Gambira and is donating proceeds from her song "Streets of Burma" and Kim Barlow performed an awareness concert.

There is also great support for Alberta's Lubicon Cree, whose rights have been violated by the Canadian government (article 27 from the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights) according to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights. Lynn Miles, The Surgents, Kinnie Starr, and Chin Injeti are all raising awareness for the Lubicon Cree through fundraising, petitions, PSA and other awareness strategies.

"And some exciting news," Nemchin adds. "Friends of the Lubicon has been asked by Neil Young's management whether they could organize tabling at his upcoming concerts in Canada. Friends of the Lubicon has asked, in turn, if Amnesty could arrange this and of course we are. This is a very crucial time for the Lubicon and having Neil Young's support will no doubt raise awareness of the human rights violations taking place and hopefully garner hundreds, maybe thousands of petition signatures to help this campaign."

Go to for more information on the campaign, the causes, how to sign up or get involved.

The new wave of cross-culture

Written by Jody Prewett, Sevenglobal,Thursday, 27 November

Not so long ago, the very utterance of the term “world music” to the proverbial indie kid or NME reader would be greeted with an onslaught of chortling and sneering. Rather like the new age genre, we’ve come to associate it with saccharine compilation albums called Sacred Spirit or the earthy ethnic hymns of Enya. The genre itself is something of a misnomer; all music should fall under the banner of world music. I’d like to think that music is a universal language that transcends cultural boundaries; surely it is a language that speaks to everyone alike?

However, it has been some time since modern pop really embraced the music of multiple cultures. Not since Peter Gabriel’s flirtations with African percussion or Paul Simon’s epochal Graceland have we been exposed to a true mingling of musical cultures. Recently, though, the tide seems to be turning with a clutch of new guitar bands being directly influenced by the music of Africa.

In recent times, indie has remained stationary and landlocked inside its own hemisphere. In the last year, there has been a new wave of bands far more at ease with the idea of world music, looking towards the primal rhythms of Africa for inspiration. This latest incarnation of guitar music has as much in common with Fela Kuti as it does with The Beatles; there is a sense of cultural crossover in pop that hasn’t been heard since The Clash collided head on with reggae.

For those unfamiliar with the genre, Afrobeat is a style that became popular in Africa during the Seventies and was spearheaded by Kuti. The music is a celebratory melting pot of African folk, funk and jazz with political undercurrents; Kuti, in particular, was compelled to react to the unsteady political climate of most African countries during the Sixties through his music. For Kuti, music is an impetus for social change, both a celebration of African folk traditions and a desire for human unity. The rich combination of primitive folk with modern electric sounds certainly seems to reflect this.

Two of the hottest new bands currently coming from the States are Brooklyn’s Yeasayer and Vampire Weekend. Both can be loosely referred to as guitar bands, but something sets them apart: they have a desire to go beyond simply being referred to as alternative rock. The debut album from Yeasayer, All Hour Symbols, is characterised by an emphasis on percussiveness combined with a sense of struggle and protest in the lyrics that echoes the great Kuti. On “2080” they sing, “I can’t sleep when I think about the future I’ve been born into” over a wash of guitar scales reminiscent of Thomas Mapfumo. This sounds unusually spiritual for a white guitar band, the kind of statement you would normally associate with the struggle against injustice of Africans during the Sixties. Perhaps this desire for universality and multi-culture in the music is symptomatic of the times we are in and represents a yearning for change in a separatist America and divided international community.

It is important to note that, on the surface, Vampire Weekend is a guitar band in the mould of Arctic Monkeys. But listen closer and there is something decidedly African in the spangling sun-soaked guitars and danceable rhythms. Both of these bands are injecting a sense of colour into the traditionally white indie alternative arena, seduced by the exoticism and splendour of the music of Africa.

Also from New York is Antibalas, an Afrobeat orchestra whose brass section forms an integral part of Foals’ Antidotes. As an album, it bypasses traditional song craft in favour of a reliance on infectious polyrhythms and repetition. The guitars, in particular, are peculiarly alien to ears trained to the established conventions of alternative music. Their two guitarists play cyclic staccato riffs, recalling the playing style of many Senegalese guitarists. In their music, you can hear the same carnivalesque sense of energy and repetition that is prevalent in African music. The Oxford-based band is regarded as one of the most progressive bands of the moment and is a front-runner in British music right now. Yet they hardly fit the stereotype of British guitar bands we’ve grown accustomed to. While the likes of The Enemy and Kaiser Chiefs are synonymous with the North of England, Foals sound like a truly international group.

It seems as though our audiences are becoming more open and accepting of more unfamiliar sounds. This wouldn’t seem so relevant if it were some underground phenomenon, but this bringing together of styles is taking place well within the radar of the mainstream press. It promises the kind of step forward that has previously been stunted by the regressive Britpop boom and the consciously retro “New Rock Revolution”.

In the 1980s, Talking Heads were heavily influenced by Afrobeat and very reactionary to the grit and grime of punk rock. Their sound was built on a funk groove that celebrated the concept of a large group of musicians singing and dancing in a kind of musical celebration of unity. In many ways, Talking Heads embody the idea of diversity and seem driven to distance themselves from the mono-culture of hard rock and punk of the 1970s. At the same time in Britain, The Clash played a politicised amalgamation of punk and reggae while The Specials were at the front of the ska movement. The current resurgence seems to mirror what happened during the Eighties in the borrowing of sounds from beyond the realms of recognised pop culture.

In dance music, Afrobeat is also thriving, with DJs Giles Peterson and Laurent Garnier regularly mixing Kuti or Ethiopia’s Mulata Astatke into their sets. Certainly, African music lends itself more directly to the dance floor, yet it is hugely symbolic that audiences are embracing Afrobeat to such an extent that it is beginning to influence our own popular music. It doesn’t seem to be a conscious source of influence either, more a subconscious gradual change in how people are approaching music-making.

Looking back to the 1990s and the turn of the millennium, pop culture seems to have its own distinct regional identity. From Britpop to grunge through to nu-metal and nu-rave, the mainstream has had a traditionally Anglo-American soundtrack and pop music hasn’t really made any great leaps across cultural boundaries. The renewed sense of openness displayed by the likes of Vampire Weekend and Yeasayer is an indication that universal divisions in the music world are narrowing once more. Perhaps today’s bands are tiring of the same reference points or are simply fed up with being conveniently categorized and thrown into a whirlpool of multiple genres and sub-genres. The timing is almost perfect. In the wake of Barack Obama’s vote of confidence from America, could this be the opening to a new dawn of truly multicultural music?

Peter Gabriel on download project We7: "Throw it at the wall and see what sticks"

Photograph: Felix Clay

John Plunket,, Tuesday November 25 2008

Peter Gabriel: 'Twenty years ago, the thought of encouraging advertising with music would be like offering your daughter to the devil.'

It is emblematic of the challenges facing the music industry today that Peter Gabriel earned more money from a compilation CD given away free with the Mail on Sunday than he did from the sales of his last record, the million-selling Up.

"It was given away to charity," said Gabriel of the proceeds from last year's Mail on Sunday giveaway. His pained expression suggests he is not a regular reader of Peter Wright's paper. "No, I won't make a comment about the newspaper involved."

It was also the Mail on Sunday that infuriated the beleaguered record industry - but wowed marketers - by giving away nearly 3m copies of the latest Prince album, Planet Earth. Did it worry Gabriel? "No, I think everyone should try all sorts of stuff. Throw it against the wall and see what sticks."

The former Genesis singer has thrown a portion of his own fortune into a new online venture that will also give content away for free.

We7, which launched earlier this month, positions itself as an "easier and better alternative to piracy", is an advertising-funded service that allows users to download songs for free. The catch is that each song has an advert tagged to the front of it.

Ads are both the bane of commercial radio and its lifeline, with listeners preferring the clutter free BBC. So how will users cope with the prospect of ads interrupting their iPod?

"It's a big hurdle," admitted Gabriel. "Twenty years ago, the thought of encouraging advertising with music would be like offering your daughter to the devil, but I think the reality is that people have got used to free music, and this is one of the few ways that musicians can still earn in a free music environment."

Technology has moved on in the 22 years since novelty "cyberpunk" band Sigue Sigue Sputnik put ads for L'Oreal and i-D magazine in the gaps between tracks on their album, Flaunt It!.

We7 will offer targeted ads based on information volunteered by its users, with an average of two minutes of ads per hour of music.

Around half of We7's 2 million songs are available for free download. The other half - the ones licensed by the four major record labels - have to be paid for. But users can stream all the songs for free - again, with ads attached. "People hate ads but they love free better," said the We7 chief executive, Steve Purdham.

Gabriel has long pioneered new digital music technology, from the Eve and Xplora interactive CD-roms in the 1990s - hilariously clunky-looking today but ground-breaking at the time - to OD2, one of the first online music download services which he co-founded with Charles Grimsdale, who is also a backer of We7.

However, his enthusiasm for all things digital - not to mention the Womad music festival, his Real World studio and record label and the Elders, the group of 12 statesmen and women that Gabriel convened to help deal with global problems - means there is little time left for his own recording career.

Gabriel's next record has been funded by Patrick McKenna, the chairman of the Ingenious Media Group and Gabriel's former financial adviser. But he may have to wait a while to see a return. Next year, perhaps? "Hopefully there's something," smiles Gabriel. "But who knows?"

He is an investor, not an inventor, he pointed out, unlike his father. "My dad was an inventor, an electrical engineer, so I'm attracted to it and I am fortunate enough to work with some very smart people," said Gabriel.
"I watched my dad trying to sell something called dial-a-programme for about 10 years, a cable-based, entertainment on-demand electronic democracy home shopping [service]. But it was 1971 and he got nowhere. He was stuck with one English company who didn't think people would ever pay for television." How times change.

The Big Question: Who are the Elders, and can they do anything to resolve world crises?

Elders Kofi Annan, Jimmy Carter and Graca Michel discuss their ban from Zimbabwe at a press conference on Saturday

By Archie Bland, the Independent, Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Why are we asking this now?

The political and humanitarian crisis in Zimbabwe has dropped off the news agenda in recent months, as events there have stagnated and reverted to the deeply depressing status quo. In an attempt to change that, a group of influential world leaders who have now left their public offices arranged a visit.

The group – known as the Global Elders – had intended to draw attention to food shortages and a cholera outbreak. But on Saturday, just when the visit was supposed to begin, the delegation issued a statement saying that it had been barred from Zimbabwe by the Mugabe regime, which refused to issue them visas. That snub has led to questions about the nature of their influence in world affairs – and what good, if any, they can do.

Who are the Elders?

The Elders are a kind of political dream team, a dozen of the most widely respected world leaders alive today, whose glittering CVs and unimpeachable commitment to human rights are supposed to open doors that would remain closed to less feted figures. Their figurehead is secular saint Nelson Mandela; the group also includes Jimmy Carter, Kofi Annan, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, former Irish president and UN Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson, and, in absentia, Burmese democracy activist Aung Sun Suu Kyi. The group may well have the highest concentration of Nobel prize-winners in the world, with five of its 12 members recipients of the honour.

What are they for?

The idea is that they can exert influence and bring attention to humanitarian crises that might otherwise go unnoticed or unsolved. Between the 12 of them, they command access to an unrivalled network of leaders that, in theory, means that they can make a difference in contexts where other means like governmental interventions might have failed.

The whole group meets twice a year, and smaller delegations travel to crisis-ridden areas in the hope of finding solutions. Jimmy Carter argues that the group can "fill an existing void in the world community." "Almost impervious to the consequences of outside criticism," he says, they have "opportunities for unrestrained analysis of important and complex issues, the evolution of suggestions, and for sharing our ideas with the general public and with others who might take action to resolve problems."

How did the Elders come together?

By the good offices of supreme entrepreneur Richard Branson and music pioneer Peter Gabriel. In 1999, the two men had a conversation about the potential benefit of an organisation that followed the "village elders" model of influence, whereby the wisdom of the most senior members of a community carries great weight.

Branson, who had got to know Mandela, broached the idea to him in 2001; and the group formally launched in April last year, with $18m in initial funding that Branson and Gabriel helped to raise. Since then they have worked in Cyprus, Sudan, Kenya, and the Middle East.

Can the model work?

The jury is still out: the group, unlike its members, is very young. It is hard to draw firm conclusions when the Elders' work is always bound to be most effective in the margins, in ways that may not always be obvious to the external observer. "I think their influence could be limited," says Josephine Osikena, Democracy and Development programme manager at the Foreign Policy Centre. "But because they're international elder statespeople, there is some kind of effect. Perhaps they can intervene and discuss in ways that the UK government, for example, can't, because it would be seen as antagonistic."

What evidence of their effectiveness is there?

The relative success of the group's mission to Kenya might be seen as an example of how they can function effectively. The arrival of Kofi Annan et al in January this year was by no means a panacea after violent clashes followed the last election there, and the group could not offer any incentives beyond the weight of their names and experience to the negotiating parties. But, says Sally Healy, Associate Fellow of the Africa Programme at Chatham House, their sheer presence had a calming effect. "They helped to 'freeze' the situation," she says, "and they created a sense that stuff was happening, and so you didn't have to go and fight today."

Their influence, adds Healy, can be particularly powerful in Africa, where government is much more reliant on personal relationships than the kind of systematic approach more prevalent in the West, and where the village elders model is culturally significant. "Someone we might regard as an old has-been might be seen in a different context in Kenya or Zimbabwe," she says. "It's partly to do with tradition, and it's partly weak institutions."

And can they have a negative impact?

Possibly. Many are sceptical of what one newspaper editorial said might be referred to as a "makework scheme for ex-leaders who cannot let go". In Israel, some saw their role as a distraction: "This is not a conflict where people lack heroic leadership," said Robert Satloff, executive director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. "These are not issues that tend to lend themselves to whatever these otherwise distinguished stastesmen can contribute."

Earlier this year the Israeli government turned down an offer to mediate a ceasefire with Hamas, with the country's UN ambassador Dan Gillerman saying that "nothing good could come out of this initiative". And, according to Sally Healy, "it would be very foolish to put your eggs in the old boys' mediating network basket without the hard-edged government diplomacy as well."

What happened in Zimbabwe?

Zanu-PF seems to have made a calculation that the negative PR that will result from denying the Elders' access will be less damaging to the regime than letting them in to observe and condemn the government's failure to help people who are starving to death. Mugabe has attempted to cast the group as Western stooges lacking the moral authority to cast judgement in Zimbabwe. (The Zimbabwean government also says that they are only postponing the trip, and that it will take place at a later date, though few believe it.) The Elders' argument that they are not coming to Zimbabwe with a political purpose but a humanitarian one has fallen on stony ground – particularly in the light of previous condemnation of the Mugabe regime by Desmond Tutu, among others.

So can the Elders still have an influence there?

Paradoxically, it may be that Mugabe's decision will actually increase their long-term influence. It confers a sense that the group are capable of meaningful action – why ban anyone whose words would have no consequences? – and raises the profile of the situation in Zimbabwe in a way that might otherwise have been impossible.

The Elders are continuing to work in neighbouring South Africa, and their statements in the aftermath of their ban have emphasised the non-partisan, humanitarian good that they seek to do." "We need no red-carpet treatment from the government of Zimbabwe," said Mr Annan. "We seek no permission other than permission to help the poor and the desperate."

Can the Elders succeed in changing things for the better?


*Their connections are remarkable. They can probably get any politician in the world on the phone

*There's nothing like Nelson Mandela making his feelings known about an issue to turn the spotlight on it

*Their separation from governments allows them to pursue what they believe is right


*Past ties to institutions like the UN means they can be dismissed as agents of Western influence

*The temporary blast of publicity they can bring doesn't necessarily lead to tangible results

*The levers available to national governments – like trade sanctions – are far more influential in the end